Kennedy, Jacqueline (1929–1994)
Kennedy, Jacqueline (1929–1994)
Kennedy, Jacqueline (1929–1994)
One of America's most popular first ladies who was much admired for her artistic sensibility, sophisticated beauty, and patronage of the arts. Name variations: Jacqueline Bouvier; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis; Jackie O. Born on July 28, 1929, in Southampton, New York; died from cancer on May 19, 1994, in New York City; buried in Arlington National Cemetery; daughter of John "Black Jack" Bouvier (a wealthy stockbroker) and Janet (Lee) Bouvier (a socialite), later known as Janet Auchincloss; educated at Vassar, Smith College, George Washington University and the Sorbonne; married John Fitzgerald Kennedy (35th president of the United States), on September 12, 1953 (assassinated November 22, 1963); married Aristotle Onassis (a Greek industrialist), in 1968 (died 1975); children: (first marriage) Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg (b. 1957, a lawyer and writer); John F. Kennedy, Jr. (1960–1999); Patrick (1963–1963); (second marriage) stepchildren, Alexander and Christina Onassis.
Met John F. Kennedy, who at the time was beginning his campaign for U.S. senator from Massachusetts (1952); married during John Kennedy's first year in the Senate (September 1953); became first lady on her husband's election to the presidency (1960); was riding next to her husband in a Dallas motorcade when an assassin's bullet took his life (November 1963); married Greek industrialist Aristotle Onassis (1968), spending much of her time abroad until his death (1975), after which she moved back to New York; became an editor for Doubleday (1978), remaining by choice out of the public eye and living quietly until her death from cancer (May 1994), in New York City; buried in Arlington National Cemetery next to John F. Kennedy.
January 20, 1961, dawned in Washington, D.C., with bright blue skies, thin winter sunshine and freezing temperatures. There had been a paralyzing snowstorm the night before, but it was of no consequence to the handsome young couple hurrying to dress for ceremonies scheduled to begin later that morning, although as usual he was ready before she was and complained loudly of the delay. But Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy would not be hurried, even if she was keeping the president-elect of the United States and all of Capitol Hill waiting. Later, walking onto the inaugural platform at her husband's side, a gust of wind attempted to sweep away her pillbox hat. Jackie's last minute grab saved the hat but unfortunately left a dent in its thick wool fabric; nevertheless, as Chief Justice Earl Warren administered the oath of office to her husband John, and Jackie stood serenely in a fawn wool coat with sable trim designed by Oleg Cassini, fashion-conscious eyes fixed on the matching hat. Soon, women throughout the nation were carefully denting their own hats and designers were manufacturing hats with dents already in them. Jackie had turned near-disaster into triumph with her usual effortless sophistication and, more important, had begun the process that would transform her into a national legend.
She had learned early on to deal with upsetting surprises, growing up with the privileges of wealth in a household ruled by a charming philanderer of a father and a socially rigid mother. John Bouvier had long earned the sobriquet "Black Jack" by the time of Jackie's birth on July 28, 1929. Bouvier's reputation as a hard drinker, devoted gambler, and inveterate womanizer had long been established when his pending marriage to socialite Janet Lee (later known as Janet Auchincloss ) had been announced early the previous year. One rumor on the weekend house party circuit was that Bouvier needed the Lee family's money, having gambled and drunk away most of his own family's fortune earned several generations earlier in the banking business by ancestors made of sturdier stuff. Old-line New York families scoffed at the pending union, considering the Lees, who had earned their money in the real estate business within the past two generations, too nouveau for the more blue-blooded Bouviers. The truth was that both families relied on manufactured genealogies. The Bouviers, who claimed descent from French Catholic nobility, were actually descended from a cabinetmaker who had fled France after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo. The Lee family's ancestry, meanwhile, bore no relation to the famous first family of Southern aristocracy, as was claimed, but stemmed from a poor Irish immigrant who settled in New York in the 1840s.
Janet's father James Lee considered Jack Bouvier a libertine and a spendthrift, and attempted to talk his daughter out of the marriage, but the wedding took place as planned in the summer of 1928 in East Hampton, Long Island, and was the social highlight of the season. In later years, Jack would boast to his daughter of his sexual conquests while on his honeymoon with Janet aboard the ship carrying them to England, notably a passionate assignation with tobacco heiress Doris Duke . Everyone hoped the birth of Jacqueline a year later would help save a marriage in trouble almost as soon as it began. But the stock-market crash three months after Jackie's birth destroyed what was left of her father's money, forcing him into the embarrassing position of borrowing from his father-in-law and living in an 11-room apartment paid for by James Lee; and it was Lee money that paid for young Jacqueline's private tutors and the ponies she was riding at age five, when she won her first blue ribbon—the beginning of a lifelong attachment to equestrian pursuits. The death of a beloved brother seemed to plunge Jack Bouvier into even deeper despair relieved by endless romances and drinking so severe that Jacqueline would remember all her life putting Jack to bed after he had collapsed in a stupor. Even the birth of a second daughter, Caroline Lee (Lee Radzi-well ), in 1931 failed to bring Jack back to his senses. It was obvious to Janet that her older daughter adored her father and had inherited some of his wildness, as evidenced by the kindergarten teachers who wrote notes home calling Jackie a "problem child," prone to mischief like smearing the school's toilet bowls with hand cream. "I know you love horses and you yourself are very much like a beautiful Thoroughbred," one exasperated headmistress told the young Bouvier girl. "But if you're not properly broken and trained, you'll be good for nothing."
By 1936, when Jackie was eight and her sister Lee just five, Janet left her husband for a trial separation. After several attempts to resuscitate the marriage, Janet took her two girls to Reno, Nevada, to obtain a divorce in the state where it was easy to get one. Jack offered no opposition, especially after Janet leaked a private investigator's findings to the press, to the horror of New York's elite. The divorce was granted during the summer of 1940.
Two years later, Janet married Hugh Auchincloss, a prim investment banker and lawyer with everything Janet was looking for in a husband—a love of home, family, and money. "The word 'swashbuckling' has never been applied to an Auchincloss," as one of their number once drily noted. Auchincloss himself had recently divorced Nina Auchincloss , who vacated the premises with a son from her first marriage—then called Eugene but soon to take his father's name and make his way as Gore Vidal. Vidal later described Jackie and Lee as the "two frizzy-haired stepdaughters who took my place in [Hugh's] ample heart." Now it was Jackie and Lee who spent their winters at their new family's Merrywood Farm in Virginia, with its 46 acres, swimming pool, badminton court, and stables, and their summers at Hammersmith Farm in Newport, Rhode Island, with its 28 rooms set on 83 acres. The girls liked their "Uncle Hughdie" well enough, but Jackie especially missed her father, who never remarried.
Perhaps under the influence of the more staid Auchincloss household, Jackie was known to Miss Porter's boarding school in Farmington, Connecticut, where she was sent in 1944, as a rather quiet, studious girl who chose her friends carefully and never dated. "I just know no one will ever marry me," she confided to a classmate, "and I'll end up as a housemother at Farmington." Her favorite times were her father's weekend visits, during which Jack would openly and with great gusto describe his latest sexual exploits, which grew to such numbers that Jackie would often point to a visiting mother and gleefully ask, "That one, Daddy?," followed by a vigorous nod from her father. She found it all tremendously amusing.
Throughout the world, people love fairy tales, and especially those related to the lives of the rich.
Three years later, Jackie had been formally introduced to New York society in the ritual "coming out." She made her first appearance at a summer party arranged at Hammersmith Farm by Janet, who decided to use the occasion to also introduce Jackie's new half-brother, "Master James Lee Auchincloss," as the invitation presented the baby which had arrived in late spring. Fall brought the usual round of debutante balls, crowned by society columnist Igor Cassini's choice of Jackie as "Debutante of the Year." Jackie expressed genuine surprise at the title, for despite her slim figure and classic features, she had never considered herself a great beauty and was, in fact, particularly self-conscious about her large hands and feet. Then there were her eyes which, she once wrote, were "so unfortunately far apart that it takes me three weeks to have a pair of glasses made with a bridge wide enough to fit over my nose." But for Cassini, who wrote his society column under the name of "Cholly Knickerbocker" and was Oleg's elder brother, Jackie's attractions were other than physical. "I felt something very special in her, an understated elegance," Cassini later said. "Although shy and extremely private, she stood out in a crowd. She had that certain something."
Fresh from her social triumphs, Jackie entered Vassar that same autumn, keeping to herself most of the time, earning good grades and only occasionally taking weekend trips to Boston to date admirers from Harvard. She chose her dates carefully and heeded her father's advice to guard her reputation by playing hard to get—an ironic suggestion from a man who revealed in the same breath that he only slept with women who made him work for his seduction. After only a year at Vassar, Jackie convinced her mother to let her continue her education in Europe. She had been particularly enamored of French culture during a chaperoned summer vacation in Paris, which made Vassar and its surrounding town of Poughkeepsie, New York, seem depressingly provincial. October of 1948 found Jackie at the Sorbonne and living with a French family in the 12th arrondissement, with whose six members she shared one bathroom and no central heating. She had purposely chosen not to live in the dormitory usually reserved for American women at the Sorbonne and stood in line with other Frenchwomen to buy food and supplies with a postwar ration card. She immersed herself in Left Bank culture, read Hemingway and Baudelaire at Les Deux Magots and the Café des Fleurs, and dated American writers then living in Paris, including George Plimpton, who was working for the Paris Review, and novelist John Phillip Marquand, Jr., whose father had won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Late George Apley. Much to her mother's alarm, there were rumors that Jackie and Marquand were discussing marriage and, even more disturbing, that Jackie had been sleeping with him. The former was proven false, and Marquand insisted that the latter was equally untrue. After a year, Janet insisted that her 20-year-old daughter, with no prospects for marriage, return home and consider her future. But Jackie's year in Paris would have a profound influence on every aspect of that future, from the clothes she wore to the ease with which she would manage state dinners with glittering international guest lists.
No sooner had she arrived back in New York than Jackie learned she had won Vogue magazine's Prix de Paris essay contest, offering the chance of working for six months as a junior editor at Vogue's Paris bureau. She had been one of some 1,200 young women to enter the contest, writing in a style that was at once amusing, charming, and practical. Janet pleaded with her to refuse the award and find a husband; Hugh offered to pay for a summer vacation in Paris and to find her a newspaper job when she returned. After working for only a week at Vogue's New York office, also part of the prize, Jackie politely declined a career that the quality of her writing indicated would have been a successful one. "I guess I was too scared to go to Paris again," she later wrote. "I felt then that if I went back, I'd live there forever."
In 1951, Jackie graduated from George Washington University with a degree in French literature. True to his word, Hugh Auchincloss sent her off to Paris with her sister Lee for the summer, after which the two sisters self-published a book of their experiences, One Special Summer, in which Jackie assured a worried "Uncle Hughdie" in the book's preface that they had been careful to do nothing to embarrass him. "I know you are right about us representing our country and that we must never do anything that would call attention to us and make people shocked at Americans," she wrote in an oddly succinct statement of her future responsibilities.
Also true to his promise, Auchincloss found Jackie a newspaper job by calling on his old friend Arthur Krock, who was then the Washington correspondent for The New York Times. Krock in turn called the editor of the old Washington Times-Herald to ask, "Are you still hiring little girls?" The Times-Herald, as it turned out, was looking for an "inquiring photographer"—someone who could stop passersby with an interesting question, report their response, and take their photograph. Jackie was told she could have the job, at $42.50 a week, if she could learn to handle a clumsy Speed Graphic camera by the next day. She managed to learn the camera's intricacies (although a six-foot reporter had to lay down on the floor to give her an idea of how far to stand from her subjects) and hit the streets of Washington to ask questions of her own invention. "What would you serve someone for his last meal?" was her query to a chef at one of the city's top restaurants (a vodka martini, turtle soup, and Chateaubriand, the chef said). When willing interview subjects proved sparse, Jackie merely turned to her friends, dressing them appropriately and suggesting interesting answers to her questions. Most of the newspaper's reporters were unimpressed with her journalistic abilities and sniped around the water fountain that she only had the job because of her family connections. But the paper's editor tried to be more fair. "She worked hard at the paper," he said, "never whined or ratted.…She's a good example of a youngster who takes advantage of her opportunities."
More than a few of Jackie's invented questions had to do with marriage—whether wives
should pretend their husbands were smarter; whether men are as anxious to get married as women; what was the perfect age for a girl to find a husband. As it turned out, there was something more than journalistic creativity behind the questions, for in January of 1952 Jackie announced her engagement to a young investment banker named John Husted, Jr. Husted came from the requisite good family, comfortably situated but not so comfortably as to prevent Jackie's mother from feeling her daughter could do better. "You must realize that [the importance of money] was the one thing that Janet Auchincloss pounded into the heads of her daughters," Gore Vidal told an interviewer years later. Novelist Louis Auchincloss, Jackie's cousin, put it more bluntly. "The major motivation in her life was money." The fact was that Jackie had very little financial security of her own, particularly after old John Bouvier, Jackie's paternal grandfather, wrote his spendthrift son out of his will and thus deprived his granddaughter of an inheritance of her own. Jackie relied almost entirely on Hugh Auchincloss' largesse for support. Janet's remonstrances must have had an effect on her elder daughter, for friends who saw Jackie and Husted together felt there was a certain coolness in the relationship, and Husted might have wondered about Jackie's intentions when she arrived three hours late for the arranged meeting at which Jackie accepted his offer.
Planning began for a June wedding, while Jackie shuttled between her job in Washington and weekends with Husted in New York during the winter and early spring of that year; but rumors grew that the marriage would never happen, especially when Jackie began dating other men. Finally, she invited Husted down to Merry-wood one April weekend and gently broke the news. "I may not be the most appropriate person for you," she told him. "I'm thinking of you, John, not me." What she was also thinking of was the man she had met at a cocktail party almost a year earlier and who was now actively pursuing her. He was handsome, ambitious, charming, and from a very wealthy family, indeed. His name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
Mutual friends had introduced her to Jack Kennedy before her engagement, and had arranged for Jack to escort her to one of their dinner parties as soon as news that Jackie was once again a free woman began circulating. Jack was 12 years Jackie's senior and was just beginning a political career promoted by his father Joseph P. Kennedy, who had begun as an Irish political boss in Boston, smuggled bootleg liquor during Prohibition, had been a Hollywood movie executive, and had ended up as ambassador to Britain under Franklin Roosevelt. When his eldest and favorite son Joseph Kennedy, Jr., died in World War II, Joe senior had turned to his next oldest son, one of his ten children with the equally formidable Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy , to glorify the family name in the halls of Washington. Jack was already a U.S. congressional representative from Massachusetts' 11th district when he first met Jackie Bouvier, and was mounting his successful campaign for Henry Cabot Lodge's Senate seat by the time their relationship grew more serious.
Janet Bouvier Auchincloss may have thought the Kennedys vulgar nouveau, but even she had to be impressed by the family's fortune, then estimated at some $400 million. Jack himself had been assigned a trust fund of some $10 million by his father. For her part, Jackie may have seen something of her beloved father in Jack's considerable charms and somewhat raffish manner, although she chose to overlook Jack's reputation as an enthusiastic womanizer and his almost childlike vanity. "If we go out to a party or reception or something where nobody recognizes him," she told her cousin John Davis, "he sulks afterward for hours." More of a challenge was the Kennedy clan itself, a tight-knit group of boisterous, relentlessly athletic and caustically witted Irish Catholics ruled by two parents who believed winning was everything. Jack's sisters Eunice Kennedy (Shriver) , Jean Kennedy (Smith) , and Patricia Kennedy (Lawford) guffawed at Jackie's genteel manners, calling her "The Deb" and mocking Jackie's insistence that her given name be pronounced "Jac-CLEAN" ("rhymes with 'the Queen'," Pat wisecracked). Equally difficult was the Kennedys' enthusiasm for contact sports of all kinds, Jackie suffering various bruises, cuts and twisted ankles in her efforts to join in. "They'll kill me before I ever get to marry him," Jackie wrote to a friend in desperation. Rose Kennedy shared her daughters' disdain for Jackie's aristocratic airs, but it was precisely her gentility that won Joseph P. Kennedy to her side. Joe Kennedy had never been able to convince Boston society's elite that he was one of them, and Jackie's sophistication and classic bearing convinced the old man that his son would be advancing the family's social standing by marrying her. "Jackie's got more class than any girl we've seen around here," he told one of his cronies. Besides, he said, "a politician's got to have a wife, and a Catholic politician's got to have a Catholic wife." Amid all this family drama, there could have been no better symbol of the differences between them than what the Kennedys packed for lunch for a cruise on the family yacht, and what Jackie brought along for herself. The Kennedys consumed quantities of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with lemonade; Jackie brought pâté, quiche, and white wine.
Not long after Jackie's sister Lee married for the first time, Jack Kennedy finally proposed in the spring of 1953. It was a sign of Jack's priorities, however, that he asked his fiancée to delay announcing the engagement until the summer so that a planned Saturday Evening Post article called "The Senate's Gay Young Bachelor" could appear as scheduled. It was, he explained, an important public relations tool for his career. While the announcement was under wraps, Jackie accepted an invitation to accompany a friend to the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in London, which she covered for the Times-Herald to meet her expenses for the trip. She was away from Jack for a month and must have been thinking of the implications of her decision to marry a man whose roving eye was common knowledge. "How can you live with a husband who is bound to be unfaithful, but whom one loves?," she asked a friend. She might also have paused when, arriving for a weekend visit at Hyannis Port after the engagement was finally announced, she was met by a Look photographer assigned to shoot an article to be called "Senator Kennedy Goes A'Courtin'." Her protests that nobody had asked for her permission fell on deaf ears. She had to do it, Joe Kennedy told her, for the good of Jack's career.
More conflict arose over the Auchincloss' preference for a small, private wedding and the Kennedys' demand for a large, very public affair that would give Jack maximum exposure. The guest list for the ceremony at St. Mary's Church in Newport on September 12, 1953, numbered nearly 800, joined by 500 more at the reception held on the lawns of Hammersmith Farm. "Black Jack" Bouvier, however, was not among them, for Janet had barred him from the wedding ceremony and the reception as well. (Rumors that Janet had arranged for someone to go to Bouvier's room and make sure he got drunk have never been substantiated.) Jackie was bitterly disappointed that her father was unable to give her away, but as usual hid her emotions under a serene smile as Hugh Auchincloss led her to the altar and her waiting husband, who joked to throngs of reporters that he was marrying Jackie to reduce the press corps' number by one.
The couple's first years together were not promising, especially to a woman who had told her boarding-school friends a mere ten years earlier that her ambition in life was "not to be a housewife." Married to an ambitious politician, there was little else Jackie could be. "Housekeeping is a joy to me," she dutifully told a reporter after she and Jack had moved into their first home, a rented townhouse in Georgetown. "When it all runs smoothly, when the food is good and the flowers fresh, I have much satisfaction." But as she acted the smiling, invisible host to Jack's political cronies, attended Capitol Hill cocktail parties and joined women's charitable committees, and turned a blind eye to her husband's philandering, she struggled to keep depression at bay. "Jackie was wandering around looking like a survivor from an airplane crash," one friend remembered of these years. Still, some deep-seated bond kept the marriage intact, especially after Jack nearly died from complications of surgery intended to relieve the agonizing back pain of a slipped disc. It was an ailment that had tortured him for years and might well have put him in a wheelchair for life. Even so, doctors warned that an operation could prove fatal because of Addison's Disease, a disorder of the immune system that Jack had been able to control with cortisone but which made any post-operative infection potentially disastrous.
Even Joe Kennedy failed to dissuade his son from taking the risk. The operation was performed in October of 1954, but as had been feared, an infection followed. Jack sank into a coma and was so near death that a priest was hastily called to administer the last rites of the Catholic Church. For days, Jackie sat at her husband's bedside holding his unresponsive hand, reading poetry to him softly and, for her dedication and strength, finally earning the respect of Rose Kennedy and her daughters. Jack ultimately regained consciousness and began a slow recovery, during which he relied on Jackie to answer his mail, screen visitors, and help him with research for his landmark study of political integrity, Profiles in Courage. "This book would not have been possible without the encouragement, assistance and criticisms offered from the very beginning by my wife, Jacqueline, whose help during all the days of my convalescence I cannot adequately acknowledge," Jack wrote in his introduction.
In March of 1955, Jack walked for the first time in over a year without crutches; and by July, Jackie traveled with her husband to Rome, where the couple met Pope Pius XII, and to Paris for a state dinner with the French prime minister, who was much impressed with Jackie's knowledge of French language and culture. During their seven weeks abroad, the Kennedys also attended a party in honor of Winston Churchill aboard the yacht of Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, one of the world's wealthiest men, during which Churchill paid more attention to Jackie than to her husband.
On their return home, Jackie discovered she was pregnant and convinced Jack that it was time for a permanent home. She chose a small estate called Holly Hill in McLean, Virginia, not far from Merrywood. The couple had hardly moved in, however, when Jackie miscarried early in her first trimester. Four months later, she was pregnant again. This time she carried the baby nearly to term, although the strains of accompanying Jack to the 1956 Democratic Convention and campaigning with him for his near-victory as Adlai Stevenson's running mate proved too much for her. She collapsed at Hammersmith Farm soon after returning from the Convention with severe stomach cramps and hemorrhaging; her stillborn daughter was born just hours later at a nearby hospital. It was not Jack, however, who came to comfort her as she lay weak from loss of blood. It took three days to contact Jack, on a Mediterranean cruise at the time with friends, and it was his younger brother Robert F. Kennedy that offered Jackie comfort and who tried to shield her from the Washington gossip that Jack only agreed to return to her after being told that not doing so might hurt his political aspirations. By now, the three-year-old marriage had reached its lowest point, and there were rumors a divorce was imminent. But once again political necessity intervened.
Over Thanksgiving at Hyannis Port that year, Jack and Bobby spent long hours in discussions with their father about Jack's possible presidential candidacy. Joe Kennedy felt that the political climate was right but urged Jack not to let his wife seek a divorce. Electing a Catholic to the White House would be hard enough, he said, let alone a divorced one, although the family would later deny rumors that Joe had offered his daughter-in-law $1 million to stay in the family. Even if it was a false report, the existence of such gossip indicated the enormous power Jackie now wielded over her husband's future. Further intricacies arose when Jackie announced in the spring of 1957 that she was once again pregnant. After two unsuccessful pregnancies, apprehension mounted about a third one when Jackie's beloved father died of liver cancer in August of that year. Happily, the fears proved groundless. The couple's first child, Caroline Kennedy (Schlossberg) , was born in New York on November 27. But even a baby was not immune from the Kennedys' political juggernaut. Over Jackie's objections, little Caroline was photographed with her father for national publication during his successful campaign for re-election to the Senate when she was barely a month old. The election, which Jack won by a wide margin, was seen as a final test of his chances for the White House.
Jackie did not travel with her husband to the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles a year and a half later, for by then she was carrying a second child and refused to subject herself and her baby to the strain. She remained in the background after Jack's nomination, in contrast to Patricia Nixon , who appeared with her husband at almost all his campaign appearances. The Nixon campaign, sensing that Jackie might be perceived as a high society snob in designer clothes, recalled to voters Nixon's famous "Checkers" speech of 1952 about his humble origins and his wife's "Republican cloth coat"; but Jackie, very obviously pregnant in her few interviews with reporters, turned her condition to advantage, emphasizing her dedication to home and family. "I feel I should be with Jack when he's engaged in such a struggle," she told them, "and if it weren't for the baby, I'd campaign even more vigorously than Mrs. Nixon." On the occasions when she did take the stump for Jack, however, Jackie seemed to reach her audience with a combination of sincerity and a wry sense of humor. She once marched up to the manager's office in a crowded supermarket, asked for the microphone, and announced "Just keep on with your shopping while I tell you why you should vote for my husband, John F. Kennedy"; and during the primaries, she told the press that among Caroline's first words had been "New Hampshire, Wisconsin, and West Virginia." She predicted that by the end of the primaries, "we would have a daughter with the greatest vocabulary of any two-year-old in the country." In November of 1960, Jack Kennedy was elected the 35th president of the United States, narrowly defeating Richard Nixon in the popular ballot by less than 120,000 votes. While the rest of the Kennedys celebrated at Hyannis Port, Jackie walked alone on the beach.
She was alone, too, when her second child, John F. Kennedy, Jr., arrived nearly two months early on November 26, 1960, just weeks after the election. Jack was on a plane to the family's Palm Beach estate, but this time ordered the pilot to return to Washington. "John-John," as he would be called, was only six pounds at birth and placed in an incubator, but he was otherwise healthy. With the safety of her son assured, Jackie put her attention on the inauguration and turned to Oleg Cassini, a longtime supporter of the Kennedys, to design the wardrobe that would catch the nation's eye that cold January day. Assembling the staff that would assist her at the White House, Jackie was persuaded to hire a press secretary, becoming the first first lady to do so. Her predecessors, most recently Mamie Eisenhower and Eleanor Roosevelt , had always managed the small amount of letter-writing and public scheduling the position required, but television had come of age during the Kennedy-Nixon contest, it being generally agreed that the small screen now found in nearly every American living room had emphasized Jack's youth and charisma at Nixon's expense. The Kennedy Administration would make masterful use of the new electronic media and of what later generations would call "spin," and it would be television that would help create the phenomenon known as "Jackie fever."
It began when Mamie Eisenhower invited Jackie to the White House for the traditional tour given by an outgoing first lady to her successor. The place, Jackie later confided to her social secretary, looked like a "hotel that had been decorated by a wholesale furniture store during a January clearance." Her redecoration of the White House during her three years there is her lasting gift to the nation, launched by her now-famous live television tour of the executive mansion on CBS during prime time. Her television presence, it was generally conceded, was less than commanding, described by her CBS co-host Charles Collingwood as "that deer-caught-inthe-headlights look," while her mastery of unscripted repartee was sadly lacking. As they entered the Blue Room, for example, Collingwood casually remarked that it had a very different feeling from the Red Room they had just left. "Yes," Jackie replied after some hesitation, "it's blue." Nonetheless, the broadcast watched by 56 million viewers was the first time the country had really had a chance to see her, and it seemed they were suitably impressed. Some $2 million in private donations, much of it in small bills from the household cookie jar, poured into the mail after the broadcast, not to mention the money from 14 countries that bought rights to air the program abroad.
Jackie's influence on her imposing surroundings was more than physical, however. She brought a new, contemporary sensibility to state dinners, for one thing, by substituting the traditional long, U-shaped tables with smaller, round ones, lending a more informal atmosphere to even the weightiest occasion of state. Her sponsorship of the arts injected a cultural excitement into a town long used to dull concerts and road tours of plays, an excitement she brought directly into the White House by inviting the likes of Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and Pablo Casals to perform there. She called for the creation of a formal government structure to fund the arts, long the standard in most European countries, leading to the eventual creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Her major achievement, though, was the creation of the Washington National Cultural Center, now called The Kennedy Center, as Capitol Hill's answer to New York's Lincoln Center.
A year into the Kennedy Administration, despite civil-rights violence in the South and political fiascos like the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion, the First Family was the focus of intense national interest, and the "Jackie Look" a national obsession, from her bouffant hairdo to her strapless evening gowns. The craze was just as intense overseas, so much so that Jack Kennedy once joked to a French audience, "I am the man who accompanied Jacqueline Kennedy to Paris, and I have enjoyed it." Even Charles de Gaulle was not immune, insisting that Jackie sit next to him at a state dinner and later telling Jack, "I now have more confidence in your country."
As Jackie's political stock grew, so did her husband's regard for her. By October of 1962, while the world's two major powers stared each other down during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Jack insisted that his wife be nearby, and Jackie refused to be evacuated to a bomb-proof retreat as long as Jack remained in Washington. Jack loved the humorous notes she would leave on his desk, often bursting out in laughter during staff meetings in the Oval Office; and he refused to let even the most serious national crisis interrupt the two hours set aside in the afternoon for he and Jackie to be alone. When a third son, named Patrick, was born prematurely in August of 1963, Jack was this time at his wife's side, where he remained until the child died of respiratory failure six days later. Both parents did not try to hide their grief from the press and wept openly at the loss. When Jackie began to slip into depression, Jack insisted she take time off after the tragedy and encouraged her to accept an invitation from a sympathetic Aristotle Onassis to spend a few weeks aboard his yacht Cristina with her sister Lee. Onassis tactfully kept a low profile during the Bouvier sisters' visit, partly out of respect for Jackie's emotional state and partly because his notorious affair with opera diva Maria Callas could prove a political weapon for her husband's opposition. Like everyone else, Aristotle was charmed by his famous guest and offered a diamond and ruby necklace as a parting gift.
Back in Washington, Jackie resumed her normal activities under the watchful eye of the press, a presence that was making her increasingly uncomfortable. Her family's constant public exposure, she said, made them "like sitting ducks in a shooting gallery" despite the constant presence of Secret Service officers, for whom she was code-named "Lace." There had already been one instance of a Florida drifter arrested outside the Kennedy compound in Palm Beach with a carload of firearms and ammunition with which he later confessed he intended to shoot the president. But as Jack began laying the groundwork in 1963 for his re-election campaign, Jackie agreed to accompany him to a particularly troublesome state where internal party bickering threatened his chances of victory. On November 21, the Kennedys and their entourage boarded Air Force One for the flight to Texas.
It was obvious from the moment the First Couple stepped off the plane in Fort Worth, where they spent their first night, that it was Jackie the crowd wanted to see. "Mrs. Kennedy is organizing herself," the president felt pressed to explain the next morning, November 22, when he appeared without her outside their hotel. "It takes a little longer, but of course she looks better than us when she does it." Rounds of applause greeted Jackie's arrival a few moments later in a pink wool suit, her trademark pillbox hat, and white gloves, the wardrobe she had chosen to wear for that day's activities in Dallas, the next stop on the tour.
The president was scheduled to deliver a luncheon address downtown, traveling to the site in an open-topped convertible from Dallas' Love Field. At 12:30, as the motorcade wound its way through Dallas' Dealey Plaza with the nation's favorite couple waving and smiling, Lee Harvey Oswald fired from the top floor of the Texas Book Exchange building. "My God, they've killed Jack; they've killed my husband!" Jackie screamed. The president's skull had been hit with such force that it was as if he had been rudely shoved down onto her lap, his blood staining the pink wool of her suit. Terrified, Jackie tried to scramble over the back of the car to safety but was pushed back by a Secret Service agent as the car screeched away toward Parkland Memorial Hospital, where John F. Kennedy died during emergency surgery. Throughout the nightmare of the next hours—in the limousine bearing Jack's bronze coffin back to Love Field, aboard Air Force One while Vice-President Lyndon Johnson was hurriedly sworn into office on the flight back to Washington, then during a hastily arranged autopsy at Bethesda Naval Hospital—Jackie refused to change out of her blood-soaked wool dress. "Let them see what they've done," she was heard to mutter. "I want them to see."
John F. Kennedy was laid to rest on November 25 at Arlington National Cemetery. It was Jackie who convinced the Kennedys that Jack should be buried in nationally consecrated ground and not in the family's private plot in Boston, as they wanted; and it was Jackie who saw to every detail of the state funeral, using protocols she studied from the records of another victim of an assassin's bullet, Abraham Lincoln; and it was Jackie's steady hand that lit the eternal flame that still watches over her husband's final resting place. As the mournful procession bearing his father's coffin to Arlington passed by, little John-John, waving his tiny American flag in one hand and saluting with the other, etched an unforgettable image on the nation's memory. Eleven days later, Jackie and her children left the White House. She remained out of sight for the next two months, finally appearing on national television in January of 1964 to publicly thank the nation for its support. "The knowledge and affection in which my husband was held by all of you has sustained me," she said, "and the warmth of these tributes is something that I shall never forget."
A year later, Jackie told an interviewer that Jack's status as a myth, rather than a man, is what had finally killed him. The public was unaware, however, that Jackie had spent the last 12 months creating that myth and making sure it would remain stainless, with no hint of her husband's sexual escapades with women ranging from his personal secretaries to Marilyn Monroe . Jackie was, for example, the source for the long-lived comparison between Jack's years in Washington and the legend of King Arthur and his mythical Camelot, planting the idea in journalist Teddy White's mind during a long evening at Hyannis Port two months after the assassination. She began by describing Jack's murder in gruesome detail, then outlined what he might have accomplished for his country had he lived, and explained how Jack had drawn inspiration from the legendary kingdom where virtue and gallantry prevailed. On nights when his back ailment was particularly painful and robbed him of sleep, she said, she would play him the recording of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and its concluding lament for "the one brief, shining moment" of Camelot and its bright hope for the future. "At that moment," White later said, "she could have sold me anything from an Edsel to the Brooklyn Bridge." White's influential article in Life magazine appeared just a few weeks later. Another journalist did not fare so well. Jackie considered his reporting ethics too dangerous and blocked his work on a book about the assassination while promoting one which she considered more favorable, William Manchester's Death of aPresident. Household employees, meanwhile, were required to sign a contract in which they pledged not to speak to the press. Infractions were met with instant dismissal. So effective were Jackie's efforts to preserve her husband's image that it was not for another 20 years that anyone dared to openly discuss Jack's sexual voracity or the Kennedy men's proclivities for, as Jackie once confided, "going after anything in skirts."
After a year living in a rented townhouse in Washington, it became clear to Jackie that it was no longer the place for her. She disliked the Johnsons and their back-slapping Southern ways, privately calling the new First Couple "Colonel Cornpone and his little pork chop," and refused LBJ's offers of an honorary White House position; and with the public now adding treacled sympathy to its continued fascination with her, she longed to escape the Washington fishbowl. Bobby Kennedy was an important source of comfort for her, as he had been all during her involvement with his tumultuous family, and their frequent appearances together inevitably led to the widely held opinion they had become lovers. The rumors gained even more strength when both Jackie and Bobby moved to New York—he, to mount a successful campaign for one of that state's U.S. Senate seats, and she, to move herself and her two children into a 14-room apartment on Park Avenue in Manhattan, bought with some of the considerable funds assigned to her from her late husband's trust.
The two were often observed at restaurants and cultural events around town, often holding hands, and at a country home in Glen Cove, Long Island, that Jackie had taken. "There was always something oddly intense in her voice when she mentioned [Bobby] to me," Gore Vidal later said, and it was generally accepted that the grief they both shared at Jack's death had grown into something more. Jackie's emotional state on the first anniversary of Jack's murder was so perilous, in fact, that she confided to a friend that she had considered taking an overdose of sleeping pills. "Everyone who loved her was very concerned about her state of mind," the friend revealed years later. "All the terrible memories had flooded back, and Bobby was the only one who
could pull her out of her depression." But as the years passed and those terrible memories lost some of their power, Jackie began to regain her balance in a city where she had spent some of her happiest years, appearing more often at public events and on the streets she had known so well. "Taking you anyplace is like going out with a national monument," one of her frequent escorts, director Mike Nichols, complained one afternoon in 1967 after the two were swamped by admirers outside of Bergdorf Goodman's. "Yes," Jackie sighed, "but isn't it fun?"
She seemed determined to carry on with her new life free of politics, but she found it a more difficult task than she expected. Bobby announced his presidential candidacy in March of 1968, and it went without saying that Jackie would be expected to appear on his behalf. She found her brother-in-law's intentions worrisome, especially after Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination just a month later and Bobby's much-publicized efforts as attorney general during his brother's administration to crack down on organized crime. "There's too much hate in this country," she told Arthur Schlesinger, "and more people hate Bobby than hated Jack." The Kennedys, for their part, were fearful that Jackie's involvement with Aristotle Onassis, who had begun paying her court some months earlier, would hurt Bobby's campaign. Onassis was Greek Orthodox, not Catholic, and had divorced Tina Onassis , his wife of many years, to openly carry on his affair with Maria Callas, even while he was pursuing Jackie. The public would hardly view such a match for their beloved Jackie with favor, the Kennedys knew, and might register their unhappiness at the ballot box. Onassis' generous contribution to Bobby's campaign eased matters somewhat, but Jackie agreed to delay any marriage announcement until after the November elections. With her promise secure and the encouraging news that he had just won the important California primary by a landslide, Bobby left for Los Angeles to deliver his victory speech. On June 6, 1968, a Palestinian dissident named Sirhan Sirhan fired at near point-blank range as Bobby shook hands with kitchen workers at the hotel where the celebration was held. He died the next day. "I hate this country," Jackie bluntly stated after Bobby's funeral. "If they're killing Kennedys, my kids are number one targets." Four months later, on October 20, 1968, Jackie married Onassis in a sparsely attended ceremony on the Greek island of Skorpios after receiving permission from Richard Cardinal Cushing to wed not only a divorced man, but a non-Catholic.
"HOW COULD YOU?" moaned one tabloid when the news became public knowledge, echoing the nearly universal condemnation of the union of the world's favorite tragic princess to a short, ostentatiously vulgar international playboy. When a friend commented that the marriage had succeeded in knocking her off her pedestal, Jackie quickly replied, "It's better than freezing there." Another paper printed the more shrewd headline "JACKIE MARRIES BLANK CHECK," for Onassis' largesse toward beautiful women was well known and Ted Kennedy had brokered a highly favorable prenuptial agreement for his sister-in-law, which included a $3 million outright gift, another $1 million placed in a trust fund for John, Jr., and Caroline, and $200,000 a year for Jackie's support in case of Onassis' death or their divorce. Although Onassis was genuinely fond of his new bride and his new daughter and son, the marriage was seen only in terms of its monetary value and Jackie, now universally called "Jackie O," as a spendthrift jet-setter. There was much reporting, too, on the frictions between Jackie and Onassis' own two children, Alexander and Christina Onassis , both of whom had begged their father not to marry the woman they called "the American geisha," whom they claimed was only after his money. Christina, a deeply troubled young woman struggling with clinically diagnosed depression, was particularly resentful of Jackie's suggestions about losing weight, changing her wardrobe and a host of other bits of advice Jackie no doubt thought helpful.
Nevertheless, the marriage was a relatively happy one at first. Onassis, with business interests throughout the world, allowed Jackie the freedom of his many homes and his credit cards. But even Onassis became alarmed after two years when Jackie's expenses sometimes amounted to $20,000 a month. Tragedy struck, too, when Onassis' son Alexander was killed in an airplane crash. With Jackie spending more time in the United States, where Caroline and John, Jr., were attending school, Onassis turned to Callas for comfort, then to his ex-wife Tina before she died in the autumn of 1974, less than two years after his son. Christina began to call Jackie "the Black Widow," who killed everyone close to her.
By now Onassis had become so upset with Jackie's aloof manner that he hired an investigative reporter to publicly document Jackie's expensive lifestyle, including a bill for $60,000 for 100 pairs of shoes, and began to plan divorce proceedings. But early in 1975, Onassis collapsed in Paris from an apparent stroke. Jackie visited him several times as his condition worsened, but was in New York when Onassis died in March. She and Teddy Kennedy attended the funeral a week later in Greece with a distraught Christina, who wept bitterly as Jackie knelt and kissed her second husband's bronze coffin. Unlike her stepdaughter, Jackie showed little emotion.
Anticipating the press scrutiny of her relations with Christina, Jackie issued a statement after the funeral claiming that Onassis had "rescued me at a time when my life was engulfed in shadows" and asserting her continued love and care for Christina. Christina herself issued a brief announcement that she and Jackie were on the most affectionate terms, but the long, ugly lawsuit that erupted over the disposition of Onassis' $1 billion fortune indicated otherwise. It dragged on for a year and half as Jackie's lawyers tried to prove that Onassis' will, in which he left nearly everything to his daughter, was invalid. Finally, Jackie accepted Christina's offer of $26 million to settle out of court. It has been estimated that in her six-year marriage to Onassis, Jackie had received from him and his estate a total of $42 million.
Her marriage to Onassis would be her last, and his death the end of her controversial lifestyle, but even her harshest critics were unprepared for the next chapter in her life. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, international celebrity and one of the world's wealthiest women, went to work. The inspiration may have had something to do with President Gerald Ford's designation of 1975 as International Women's Year, or the fact that John, Jr., and Caroline were now well-adjusted teenagers developing lives of their own, or perhaps it was simply Jackie's wish to polish her press-battered image. Eager potential employers, from TV networks to department store chains, courted her by the score, but it was the more modest position as an editor with Viking Press that appealed to her. "She knew literally everyone," Viking's president Thomas Guinzberg later said, "and in publishing it's not so much what but whom you know." Guinzberg was proof of his own statement, for he had long known Jackie through his friendship with her sister, Lee Radziwell (Lee had married Prince Stanislaus Radziwell after divorcing her first husband). Jackie accepted Guinzberg's offer of an entry level position at $10,000 a year.
At the outset, Jackie had about as much knowledge of book editing and publishing as of the camera of her inquiring photographer days 25 years before; but, as one of Viking's staff later recalled, "she was willing to roll up her sleeves and learn." There were conflicts, however. There was constant public debate among Jackie-watchers about how much she actually contributed to the books on which she worked and whether Viking had hired her only as a draw to attract authors from other houses. The situation did not improve when Viking published a suspense novel by British author Jeffrey Archer called Shall We Tell the President?, the president of Archer's fictional Washington being Teddy Kennedy, who is nearly killed in an assassination attempt. With both Jack's and Bobby's deaths little more than a decade old, the novel was considered by some in extremely bad taste. Jackie, in fact, had nothing to do with the book's acquisition and editing, but the press refused to believe it. "Anybody associated with its publication should be ashamed of herself," The New York Times stated pointedly. Stung by the accusations, Jackie resigned from Viking in 1977 and was immediately hired by Doubleday as an associate editor. By 1982, she had been promoted to a full editor and worked on such varied projects as Michael Jackson's 1984 Moonwalk and on a number of books for the equestrian market, all of which profited from her sense of style and elegant presentation.
Outside her office, Jackie generally kept out of the public eye—not an easy task, given the relentless throng of papparazzi that followed her everywhere, one of the most persistent of whom she successfully sued twice. She stayed away from politics and from the Kennedys, although she remained close to Teddy and took part in many commemorative observances to both Jack's and Bobby's memory, as well as serving as an advisor to the John F. Kennedy Library in Cambridge. She was an active and generous supporter of women's causes, particularly the plight of working women in the 1970s. "What has been sad for many women of my generation," she wrote in Ms., "is that they weren't supposed to work if they had families. There they were, with the highest education, and what were they supposed to do when the children were grown—watch the raindrops coming down the windowpane?" In her private life, she saw to it that her mother was well provided for when Hugh Auchincloss died in 1976 and left Janet in straitened circumstances because of a series of bad real estate investments. Janet herself died in 1989. (The developers who bought Hammersmith Farm renamed it "Camelot Gardens.") Jackie never spoke of her years with Jack or their time together in the White House and prevailed upon her children to do the same. Both complied, John once telling an insistent reporter, "My mother would kill me."
Although she had several discreet, genteel relationships during these final New York years, Jackie's greatest comfort came from financier Maurice Templesman who, with his businessman's knowledge of African affairs, had been an occasional adviser to Jack on African policy and had attended several state functions at the White House with his wife Lily Templesman , who separated from him on learning of his relationship with Jackie. Templesman was the ideal companion. Like her, he loathed public scrutiny and never publicized the relationship, choosing quietly elegant and secure restaurants for their rare public outings together and firmly guiding Jackie's familiar figure, complete with her trademark head scarf and dark glasses, past sidewalk gawkers. His financial expertise, meanwhile, made the most of Jackie's fortune inherited from Onassis, increasing the worth of her portfolio over the years by nearly four-fold. At his suggestion, Jackie had bought a parcel of land on Martha's Vineyard in the late 1970s on which she was able to build a $4 million, 19-room house. In 1993, Bill Clinton, just elected in a campaign that had emphasized his affinities with Jack Kennedy, visited her on Martha's Vineyard and was much photographed with Jackie and Hillary Rodham Clinton aboard Templesman's yacht.
It was in the Clintons' company, too, that Jackie made her final public appearance, in a rededication of the newly renovated JFK Library in October of 1993. Three months later, she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a deadly cancer of the lymph nodes. Doctors announced that with the early diagnosis, a course of chemotherapy might give Jackie a fighting chance, but by April the disease had spread beyond treatment. On May 19, 1994, at 10:15 in the evening, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis died quietly at home, her children and Maurice Templesman at her side to the end. She was buried next to Jack at Arlington National Cemetery.
Even after she was gone, however, controversy continued. Early in 1996, when John and Caroline announced that much of the contents of their mother's estate would be auctioned at Sotheby's, the outcry was almost as fervent as the anticipation of seeing Jackie's carefully guarded life on display. It was, complained The New Yorker, "viscerally cruel…for Caroline and John to auction off their mom as Home Shopping Network fodder." But it was Jackie herself who had suggested the idea by inserting it into her will as a practical and sensible method of dispersing her accumulated treasures and giving her children a comfortably assured future. The 5,000 items put up for bid in April of 1996 brought nearly $35 million, wildly over the most conservative estimates. Sotheby's later admitted that it had deliberately placed low estimates on most of the articles to attract the largest number of buyers, 5,000 of them, one of whom, for example, paid some $33,000 for a small stool with a torn seat that Sotheby's catalogue had estimated at no more than $150.
Jackie had, in fact, suffered the same historical fate as Jack. Her humanity had been over-powered by her own myth, her life picked over by the historians she once called "bitter old men," and her personality transformed into caricature in the media. Her efforts to preserve her version of history finally succumbed to the demands of a new American public eager for titillating revelations about the private lives of public figures. But it was a fate she had all along suspected. "The trouble with me is that I am an outsider," she once wrote to a friend. "And that's a very hard thing to be in American life."
Anderson, Christopher. Jackie After Jack: Portrait of the Lady. NY: Morrow, 1998.
Davis, John H. Jacqueline Bouvier: An Intimate Memoir. NY: John Wiley & Sons, 1996.
Ladowsky, Ellen. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. NY: Park Lane Press, 1997.
Klein, Edward. All Too Human: The Love Story of Jack and Jackie Kennedy. Pocket Books, 1996.
Leamer, Laurence. The Kennedy Women. Villard, 1994.
Taraborrelli, J. Randy. Jackie, Ethel, Joan: Women of Camelot. NY: Warner, 2000.
Norman Powers , writer-producer, Chelsea Lane Productions, New York